Saturday, September 8, 2012

Look On! One Day in September

(My thanks to IntLawGrrls for the opportunity to contribute this introductory post to the Look On! series)
Forty years ago this month, eleven Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed by the Palestinian group Black September. The event also took the life a German police officer. The athletes were taken from their dorms in the Olympic Village. Two were shot during the night and nine other athletes were killed during a failed West German attempt to rescue the athletes at the Fürstenfeldbruck airport, where the gunmen were hoping to board a plane to Cairo. Three gunmen survived and were detained by German authorities. However, before they could stand trial, they were released in October following the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane.
One Day in September (Munich Olympic Massacres-1972)” is a 1999 documentary film directed by Kevin Macdonald. It shows live footage of the hostage situation and negotiations between German police and the hijackers at the Olympic Village, and of the shoot-out at the German airport. It also features news reports from 5 September 1972. The 91-minute film presents interviews of individuals who played key roles in the events of that day. Interviews include testimonies by survivors, families of the victims, the German then-head of police and other German officials, as well as a rare interview with the only surviving Palestinian gunman who is still living in hiding today, with his wife and daughters. The film provides insight into the unraveling of events and into the psyche of the gunmen, the Israeli athletes, and West German police. The film also presents several points of controversy that still exist today, namely, the International Olympics Committee’s inadequate response to the Munich massacre, as well as the failures of the German police to protect the athletes.
This tragic event should be remembered not only for the nationality of the victims but because they were athletes competing in the Olympics: a universal living monument of peace and the friendly and dignified resolution of disputes between nations and individuals. An opportunity, once every four years, for sporting competition to shine brighter than all armed conflicts world-wide. A place where there is neither bloodshed nor violence, and merit of mind and body prevail. The massacre was not only an act of terrorism against Israel and Israelis but an act of terrorism against the Olympics and the philosophy behind it.
The Charter of the International Olympic Committee (IOC Charter) lays out this philosophy in its Preamble and Fundamental Principles:
[T]he Olympic flag . . . includes the five interlaced rings, which represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games…
The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.
Belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter and recognition by the IOC
Moreover, the IOC Charter states that violence is banned, and in particular that participants must "respect the spirit of fair play and non-violence, and behave accordingly."  Perhaps more to the point, the Charter requires that national Olympic committees take action against any form of discrimination and violence. (See Rules 2.1;; and 40 of the IOC Charter).
Unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has repeatedly failed to respond adequately to the Munich massacre. In 1972, the Games were suspended only for a few hours at the height of the crisis and resumed the next morning after the eleven hostages were killed. Despite statements by many athletes that their heart was no longer with the competition, most of them stayed on. A few rare individuals stood against the tide. Dutch distance runner Jos Hemens declared “You give a party, and someone is killed at the party, you don’t continue the party. I’m going home.”
Since the 1972 Olympics, families of the victims have time and again called on the IOC to hold a minute of silence at the beginning of the Olympic Games. The Committee has consistently denied their request.
This summer, during the London Olympics, the IOC refused calls to mark the fortieth anniversary of the massacre.  Anke Spitzer, whose husband Andre was killed in the massacre, launched a petition for a minute of silence at the London Olympics. Her petition, which received over 100,000 signatures, including by German government officials, was denied by the IOC.  Finally, on 23 July 2012, in what seems perhaps too little too late, IOC President Jacques Rogg called a minute of silence in memory of the eleven athletes at the signing of the Olympic Truce in what he later stated was a spontaneous decision. This was the first time a minute was held at the Olympic Village in memory of the victims of the Munich massacre.
In contrast with the IOC’s amnesia, Israel and Germany remember. This year on 5 September, German authorities held a ceremony in honour of the slain athletes at Fürstenfeldbruck airport, the very same place where a German police attempt to liberate the hostages had failed 40 years earlier. A commemorative plaque was placed in memory of the victims.

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